Thousands cheer Marines' homecoming
Thousands have lined the streets of Taunton as Royal Marines marched through their home town to mark returning from their final deployment in Afghanistan.
Well-wishers waved Union flags and cheered loudly to formally welcome home troops from 40 Commando.
Marines will later be presented with campaign medals at their base, Norton Manor Camp near Taunton in Somerset. The Duke of Edinburgh, Captain General of the Royal Marines, will present the medals to the troops.
Their return marks the last time Royal Marines will deploy in unit strength as the drawdown of forces from Afghanistan approaches. The 700 who marched in Taunton on Thursday were led by the Band of the Royal Marines. Following the march, which was expected to be attended by crowds of up to 15,000, a short ceremony was held in the centre of town.
Libby Lisgo, mayoress of Taunton Deane, gave civic thanks to the Marines. She said: "The sun is shining, Taunton is at its best for its best. Today it is my very real pleasure to welcome 40 Commando back to Taunton. In 2001 40 Commando were the first Commando unit in Afghanistan. The Royal Marines have lost a total of 61 killed in action.
"40 Commando themselves have suffered a total of 18 killed in action in Afghanistan. My thoughts today and I am sure the thoughts of all of us gathered here are with the families and the friends of those 18, for whom life will never be quite the same."
Family members of Marines said their thoughts were indeed with the loved ones of those who had lost their lives during deployment. 40 Commando lost 14 men in their second tour in 2010 alone. Corporal David O'Connor, of C Company, was killed during the final tour, in which troops supported the Afghan National Security Force in the Nahr-e-Saraj district.
Mother-of-five Sue Cherry, 54, from Hastings in Sussex, travelled to Taunton with 13 members of her family. Her youngest child, Sam Cherry, 19, is a Royal Marine and served in Afghanistan. His father, Keith Cherry, 55, also served with the Royal Marines until leaving the forces in 1981.
Mrs Cherry, a personal assistant, said: "We are here to celebrate that our son has returned safely, but also to think of those that didn't come back. It must be very, very hard for their families. We are also here because Taunton really supports 40 Commando. We have been through a range of emotions but it is fabulous to be here today."
The homecoming marks the last major element of more than 14,000 Royal Marines who have withdrawn from Afghanistan after 10 years of deployment. It was the third for 40 Commando following events in 2008 and 2010 when thousands lined the streets of Taunton to pay tribute.